Catalogue Essay for Catherine Parker
Words by Annelize Mulder
Humans are fundamentally inquisitive. A deep-seated curiosity urges us to investigate the unknown. Discovering what is beyond the horizon or the heavens is an exhilarating experience for most. True to human nature, we occasionally travel to new destinations only to return home to our corner of the world. Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan considers space an abstract entity that is transformed into a place once memory is associated with it. Therefore, a sense of place is produced when an occurrence at a specific time intersects within a space. Tuan observes human responses to geographical location and states that ‘Place is security, space is freedom: we are attached to the one and long for the other’.1 At a rudimentary level, it explains why we itch to board a flight to an exotic destination but eventually long to return home. The delight of coming back to your own bed is often just as satisfying as the initial departure. The cycle of finding comfort in the familiar and discovery of the unknown repeats. Allowing ourselves to periodically pursue uncharted waters brings balance to our head and heart.
In Parallel Worlds, Catherine Parker articulates the ebb and flow between familiar and unfamiliar worlds. The paintings are derived from Parker’s deep-rooted connection to place. Specific geographical locations are significant and lay the foundation for her creative process. These are places where Parker observes gateways to worlds that exist beyond her own. She looks to negative spaces in nature and architecture as conduits to access parallel worlds. These doorways reveal themselves to her in unexpected places. Sunbeams breaking through the trees or gaps between stones are all potential portals to the mystical unknown. Many of Parker’s paintings originate as a reference to a specific location, but are completed with an intuitive approach. She offers the audience an opportunity to glimpse into other worlds and imagine what lies beyond. These intricate works may evoke varied interpretations of what parallel worlds could be.
The possibility that different worlds exist parallel to our own is mind-bending. Imagine another version of yourself in another world playing out infinite versions of your life. In theoretical physics, heavyweights like Erwin Schrödinger and Stephen Hawking speculate the existence of parallel universes with complex equations. Consulting YouTube or String Theory for Dummies may provide some insight into the mysticism of this scientific maze. Perplexed, one may turn to fictional interpretations to comprehend this subject. Creatively interpreted in a myriad of ways in literature and on screen, the idea may become less scientifically accurate yet digestible for the newcomer. Young Lucy discovers Narnia through a wardrobe, Thor is banished to Earth through a wormhole, and The Flash time travels through portholes to a parallel world. These portrayals are often loaded with intricacies and convoluted story lines. Unlike these dramatized approaches, Parker does not dictate what the parallel worlds are. She simply urges the audience to pause, observe and consider the possibility of a world beyond the here and now. The appearance and accessibility of the unknown space are left entirely to the audience. Perhaps it is not a physical space, but a psychological one, or a spiritual one.
A distinct dialogue between place and space is an integral part of Parker’s practice. Her subject matter is communicated with sensitivity, inviting the audience to take a journey. Regardless of varied beliefs or vantage points, there is something for any viewer to grab a hold of. In particular, references to place and landscape have an almost universal resonance. Parker embeds a deep connectedness to specific places into her work. Travelling from her home in Toowoomba to Northern India and Magnetic Island on a regular basis creates a foundation for her art practice. Ladakh, also known as Little Tibet, is the farthest in the trio of places where Parker feels at home. She is repeatedly lured back to the region located in the Northern pocket of India. The sparsely populated district is flanked by the dramatic snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas separating the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. Here, Parker is stirred with a deep spiritual consciousness and in turn rewarded with a bottomless source of inspiration. The spiritually immersive surrounds of Ladakh inspire drawings and watercolours Parker uses as a catalyst to create larger paintings.
On home soil, Parker annually retreats to Magnetic Island off the coast of North Queensland. The breath-taking tropical terrain with rugged natural beauty is one of Parker’s most important muses. The vivid colours and the ancient landscape is a retreat where her creative mind is stimulated and works often consolidated. At home, in her Toowoomba studio, Parker carves out peaceful moments in her garden surrounded by trees and her much-loved native birds. While traces of these diverse places come through in the light, colours and energy of Parker’s new works, their diversity coalesces to create a sense of place impossible to pin down to any recognisable geographical location.
As Parker seeks out solitude amidst a chaotic world, she finds the essence of her creativity in these places. In Parallel Worlds, her canvasses are layered with narratives and executed with extraordinary detail. Many of the paintings have a landscape foundation of lush green and natural hues that evolve into a comprehensive colour palette. Parker meticulously embeds images of the natural world, imaginary world and symbolism into her paintings. Fine brushstrokes in bright colours disrupt the status quo of the landscape, perhaps suggesting it is beyond that with which we are familiar. Vivid curved lines, indicative of rock sediments or cartography markings, make their way into many of the works in this series. On maps, these lines are used to demonstrate a change in terrain, and in the works this geographical association supports the notion of a crossover point within the landscape. On closer inspection, the audience can find intriguing details and discover micro stories within the larger narrative of each painting. Parker’s intuitive approach delivers artworks that will continually unfold and reveal their essence.
Parker is a story teller and her endeavour is to unmask what we often dismiss, not due to our inability to see beyond, but simply because we don’t pause to truly observe. Parker doesn’t impose boundaries or belief systems on us, she merely offers a roadmap to evoke a renewed sense of marvel in the world around us.
1 Tuan, Yi-Fu. 1977. Space and place: The perspective of experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.